A client we've developed an annual infographic strategy for was in our office this week. Like many businesses, they had gone through the roller coaster of having a bad SEO consultant and now hired a new SEO consulting firm to assist them in fixing the damage.
And there was damage. Central to the bad SEO's strategy was backlinking on a plethora of risky sites. Now the client is contacting each of those sites to remove the links, or disavowing them via Google Search Console. From a business standpoint, this is the worst of situations. The client had to pay both consultants and, in the meantime, lost rankings and the associated business. That lost revenue went to their competitors.
Why the SEO Industry Struggles
Google's algorithms continue to increase in sophistication with their ability to targeted and personalize results based on device, location, and user behavior. Unfortunately, many SEO consultants and firms have invested heavily in processes from a few years ago that are no longer relevant. They built out staff, invested in tools, and educated themselves on strategies that are not only outdated but will put clients at risk if used today.
There's a ton of hubris in the SEO industry. I find it hard to believe that a few consultants, or a favorite search forum, or even an entire agency have the ability to outsmart the billions of dollars that Google invests in constantly improving their algorithms.
There are only three keys to modern SEO
This article may upset some people in an industry we strive to lead in, but I don't care. I'm tired of seeing clients have to pick up the pieces and spend the money they need to undo a poorly executed organic strategy. There are only three keys to every top notch SEO strategy:
- Stop Optimizing for Search Engines and Start Optimizing for Search Engine Users – If you are developing any strategy that doesn't have a customer-first approach, you're doing yourself harm. Search engines overwhelmingly want a great experience for search engine users. That doesn't mean there are not some technical aspects of search to help communicate with search engines and get feedback from them… but the goal is always to improve the user experience, not game the search engine.
- Produce, Present, and Promote Remarkable Content – Gone are the days of the content production to feed Google's insatiable appetite. Every company ramped up and accelerated the assembly line of crap content to try to engage in more keyword combinations. These companies ignored the competition and had ignored the behavior of their visitors at their peril. If you want to win at ranking, you've got to win at producing the best content on every topic, presenting it in a well-optimized medium, and promoting it to ensure it reaches the audience that will share it – ultimately growing its rank on search engines.
What Questions Should You Ask Your SEO Consultant?
With all this in mind, you have to be able to narrow down the questions you ask of your SEO consultant to ensure they're qualified and working in your company's best interest. Your search engine optimization consultant should be working to ensure you have an excellent infrastructure, understand your acquisition, nurturing, and retention strategy, and work with you throughout your omni-channel efforts to increase the effectiveness of optimizing for search engines.
- Will you document every effort you're applying to our search efforts in detail – including the date, activity, tools, and goals of the effort? SEO consultants that do a great job love educating their clients on every effort. They know that the tools aren't the key, it's their knowledge of search engines that the client is paying for. A tool like Search Search Console is important – but the strategy deployed with the data is what's critical. A transparent SEO consultant is a great SEO consultant, where you are fully engaged with the effort.
- How do you determine where our SEO efforts should be applied? This is a question that should raise a question. Your SEO consultant should be keenly interested in your business, your industry, your competition, and your differentiation. An SEO consultant that just goes and produces a list of keywords monitors their ranking, and has you pushing content on them without understanding your business is a scary one. We start every SEO engagement with understanding how we fit with the overall omni-channel strategy. We want to know every aspect of their business to ensure we're developing a unique strategy that drives the results the company needs, not what we think they might need.
- Can you describe the technical side of your efforts and what you're going to help us implement technologically? There are some baseline efforts necessary to present your content to search engines – including robots.txt, sitemaps, site hierarchy, redirects, HTML construction, accelerated mobile pages, rich snippets, etc. There are also huge factors like page speed, caching, and device responsiveness that will help – not just with search but with user interaction.
- How do you measure the success of your SEO efforts? If your SEO consultant states that organic traffic and keyword rankings are how they measure, you may have a problem. Your SEO consultant should measure your success by how much business you produce via organic traffic. Period. Having great ranking with no measurable increase in business results is all for naught. Of course, if your goal was ranking… you may want to rethink that yourself.
- Do you have a money-back guarantee? An SEO consultant can't control every aspect of your overall inbound marketing strategy. An SEO consultant can do everything right, and you can still lag behind competitors that have greater assets, a larger audience, and better overall marketing. However, if you lose a significant volume of your organic search traffic and ranking because they pushed you into a terrible strategy, they should be willing to refund a portion of their efforts. And if they get you penalized by a search engine by their actions, they should be willing to refund your investment. You're going to need it.
In short, you should be skeptical of any SEO consultant that doesn't have your best interest at heart, doesn't have an overall marketing aptitude, and isn't transparent about the efforts their deploying. Your consultant should be educating you on a constant basis; you shouldn't be wondering what they're doing or why your organic results are changing when they do.
When in Doubt
We worked with a large company that had no less than ten different SEO consultants working with them. By the end of the engagement, there were just two of us. We both had advised against the majority of consultants who had the client gaming the system – and when the hammer fell (and it fell hard) – we were there to clean up the mess.
Your SEO consultant should welcome a second opinion from an industry peer. We've even done due diligence investigations for large companies to audit and identify whether or not their SEO consultants were deploying blackhat techniques. Unfortunately, in every engagement they were. If you're suspicious, chances are you may be in trouble.